By Patricia Sanchez

Like so many club teams at UC Santa Cruz, the equestrian team operates under the radar. But despite playing against the odds, one rider, Valentina Temarario Dake, seems poised to put the Slugs on the map.

Temarario Dake has advanced to the Regional tournament after showing well at the team’s last event in Davis. At Regionals, she will be the lone representative from the UCSC team that has no horses, no training facility on campus, little funding, and no coach.

“I lease [a horse],” Temarario Dake explained. “I have to pay for it and take care of him.”

Each of the UCSC riders is responsible for taking lessons at least once a week, which range from $40 to $50 per week, all spent out-of-pocket.

The team can’t practice together, as local stable space is limited. Team events are about the only time the team is together at once.

Temarario Dake takes lessons once a week and rides twice a week at the XXX stable in Soquel, where she works with Lauren Hartwick, one of the team’s trainers. The fact that the team is so loosely tied together can be a disadvantage against better-funded competition.

“Stanford has 50 horses,” team captain Kristin Hart said. “Around here [trainers] usually only have about three. Asking them to take on the team is asking a lot.”

But the lack of accommodations has not discouraged students from coming out for the team.

“My sophomore year we ended with only five [teammates],” Hart said. “Now we’re ending with 20.”

Not only has the team grown in size, its confidence is burgeoning as well. One of the most difficult parts of competing on the equestrian team is getting comfortable riding on other people’s horses.

At competitions, athletes have to randomly select a horse from the host’s stable to show how well they can control the animal. Part of their evaluation is based on how well they look showing the horse despite its natural behavior.

“Riders [now] have a better idea of what goes on at shows,” Hart said. “Initially people are pretty scared—you have this horse you’ve never seen before and [you] have to show on it.”

While many riders have made strides with their own skill level, Temarario Dake is a class above. At the team’s last show, she qualified in the advanced class for Regionals in the walk, trot, and canter events. She also tested into Novice class for next season in other events.

“I’m pretty solid in the event I do,” said Temarario Dake, who expressed no worry over the upcoming competition. “I feel very confident. I’ve had a good season.” Temarario Dake said that she plans to continue her routine training regimen going into the event on her leased horse, Segovia.

“Since riding Segovia, my legs have become stronger and my performance has improved. I’ve been working harder because of it for sure,” Temarario Dake said. She expressed satisfaction with her invitation to Regionals, and is hopeful about advancing to national competition.

But some of the team-members have higher hopes. Eric Hampton, a first-year and the lone male member of the team, hopes to one day compete in the Olympics.

“I’m used to being one of the only guys,” Hampton said. “I’ve gotten more attention and a little bit more pressure, but it hasn’t had a profound influence on me.” There are only two male riders competing in the Slugs’ division this year.

“I think I’m the only older guy competing in Central California,” Hampton said. “I’m surprised there’s not more guys doing it [but] it’s always been like that.”

Hampton has been sidelined with an injury and has not competed this season, but has done his best to help the team by attending shows and meetings. He hopes to get back in the saddle and join his teammates at regional contests by next season.

“I think it would be a really cool opportunity to help out [the team],” Hampton said of potentially becoming a team captain next season. “I’d like to come together as a team and see what next year has to bring.”